The 13 coolest footballers of all time (according to us)

Gunter Netzer

This dazzling lot didn’t obey convention. They drank, smoked, agitated and ignored orders, but – most of all – they entertained

1. George Best

This was a man who, among other achievements, appeared on Top of the Pops, married models and dated Miss Worlds

There was something distinctly uncool about Best’s demise and passing as a result of alcoholism, but it wasn’t for nothing that he was known as O Quinto Beatle, a name given to him by the Portuguese press in 1966. The Belfast Boy was Britain’s first rock ’n’ roll footballer, combining “feet as sensitive as a pickpocket’s hands” (The Observer) with an unrivalled appetite for excess and variety.

This was a man who, among other achievements, appeared on Top of the Pops, married models and dated Miss Worlds, owned nightclubs and fashion boutiques, went to prison, appeared drunk and lewd on the country’s most-watched chat show, had pop songs and films made in his honour, airports named after him and advertised sausages.

George Best

It isn't hard to work out why Best was nicknamed the Fifth Beatle

All this, having retired from top-level football in earnest at the age of 27, his place as arguably the greatest player these islands have ever produced already secure. Wow.

2. Jay-Jay Okocha

Okocha rode a tackle, turned left, feinted right, turned left again and knocked the ball in from 10 yards, through three pairs of legs and past the diving keeper

Long before Okocha came to the Premier League, long before Bolton’s fans had t-shirts made that read ‘Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice’, long before British kids raced onto playgrounds, yelling, “I’m Okocha!” and tried to copy his dummies, flicks and turns, every German boy sat open-mouthed in front of the television and decided the one thing he wanted from life was to be like Jay-Jay.

Okocha’s Eintracht Frankfurt played Karlsruher in August 1993. With three minutes left Jay-Jay, who was barely 20, had only Karlsruher’s goalkeeper to beat. The angle was tight. Okocha shimmied to his left, feinted to his right, then turned left. Now three defenders blocked his path. Okocha rode a tackle, turned left, feinted right, turned left again and knocked the ball in from 10 yards, through three pairs of legs and past the diving keeper.

The commentator said: “Let them fire me – I’ll now show you 100 replays of that goal.” He didn’t, but he didn’t have to. Jay-Jay was now a legend. The keeper’s name? Oliver Kahn.

3. Rivellino

In scoring the Selecao’s opening goal of the tournament, a trademark free-kick, Rivellino earned the nickname Patada Atomica (Atomic Kick)

Pele was the undisputed star, Carlos Alberto the inspirational captain and Jairzinho the top scorer, but nobody summed up the effortless brilliance and style of Brazil 1970’s ‘Team of the Century’ like Rivellino. There was something about the combination of languid left foot, rolled-down socks and porn-star ’tache that screamed ‘cool’.

The son of Italian immigrants – born Roberto Rivellino, he went by his actual name, unlike many Brazilian footballers – he grew up playing barefoot on Sao Paulo’s streets, followed by futsal, and his talent was obvious from a young age. But despite almost making Brazil’s 1966 World Cup squad as a teenager, the Corinthians star wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot by 1970, having played in only one qualifier as a substitute – he scored – as Brazil reached Mexico with a perfect record.

Rivellino

Rivellino won 92 caps for Brazil between 1965 and 1978

But coach Joao Saldanha was sacked at the 11th hour after hearing a club manager criticise his selections and threatening him with a gun. His replacement, Mario Zagallo, wanted Rivellino in the team even though he played as a No.10, a position already occupied by a certain Pele. Asked to play on the left wing, Rivellino was the final piece in Brazil’s jigsaw.

In scoring the Selecao’s opening goal of the tournament, a trademark free-kick, Rivellino earned the nickname Patada Atomica (Atomic Kick). Although his other two goals in the tournament were also thunderbolts from outside the box, there was far more to his game. “Technically,” said Carlos Alberto, “it’s hard to even talk about how good he was.”

Nothing illustrated this more than two pieces of skill in the final against Italy. First, Rivellino crossed on the volley with an almost laconic swing of the left foot for Pele to head Brazil’s opener; then, in the second half, he did the ‘Elastico’ (flip-flap). It was a move invented by Corinthians team-mate Sergio Echigo and later popularised by Ronaldinho, but it was Rivellino who perfected it. “Pele couldn’t do that trick,” he joked. “He wasn’t skilful enough.”

He was being serious last summer, however, when prior to the World Cup he bemoaned the lack of players such as himself in today’s game: “The game is too tactical now, too physical. What we once called The Beautiful Game no longer exists. But football is the game of the people. It is a chance for people to celebrate.”

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